Thursday, February 03, 2011

civil war 2.0

In a Facebook debate, one friend -- Wendy -- insisted that all Republicans are evil. My reply:

I've met people who are fiscal Republicans but not social ones. They are pro gay rights, etc. But they don't believe in big government. They think high taxes, etc. hurt the economy. Some of them are genuinely concerned about the poor (some of them ARE poor). They just think the economy works in a specific way.

When you strip the two parties down to their stances on economics, you have two groups espousing mystical beliefs. One group believes that the economy is healthier if you spread the wealth. The other believes it's healthier if money trickles down from the top.

We have no way of know which group is right. Maybe one is right given certain circumstances (a recession, a war, etc) but not in other circumstances.

Anyone who is SURE that one of those two views is right is trucking in mysticism. And most people do seem to be sure.

And you can't go by history, because it's a dirty test tube. Greece in 1928 or even American in 1980 is not America in 2010. The system is too chaotic to make good predictions.

I don't know if you've lived outside of Indiana (or the midwest). But one thing to keep in mind is that the Bible belt only introduces you to one kind of Republican. Definitely the worst kind. In my view, their main problem isn't that they're Republicans, it's that they're ignorant -- and they have a culture that protects and nurtures ignorance.

My feeling is that the world sucks in many ways because there are Conservatives in it. It also sucks in many ways because there are Liberals in it. But it would suck way more if everyone was Conservative or everyone was Liberal. We need the two groups to act as checks on each other.

It's hard for most people, Liberal or Conservative, to see that, because, to some extent, being Liberal means wanting everyone else to be Liberal and being Conservative means wanting everyone else to be Conservative. Why would you want people to be what-you-consider-wrongheaded?

At it's heart, Conservatism is fear of change. At its most pathologic, it's a refusal to embrace change for the good. At its most wise, it's a caution not to leap before you look -- it's the reminder that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, and that solutions sometimes cause bigger problems.

At it's heart, Liberalism is an embracement of change. At its most pathological, it's reckless. At it's most wise, it's brave enough to experiment when problems need to be solved.

In a world with only Conservatives, nothing would ever get better. In a world with only Liberals, eventually everyone would fall off a cliff because, hey, it's worth a try! We survive only by the two forces tugging at each other.

And survival sucks, because so many Liberals and Conservatives suck. And because the pull is towards the center, and the center pleases no one. But the center is the only option that doesn't lean inevitably to destruction.

Most Liberals and Conservatives are utopians, because they believe there's a non-sucky option. They insist on acting like, one day, "the other side" will go away.

Conservatives aren't going away. Nor are Liberals. Like it or hate it, we will always share the planet.

Someone else pointed out to me that " can't strip it down to economics. Not for me, anyway. My economic theory isn't about what's best for the economy. It's about the obligations that come with being a member of a decent, functioning society. We need to provide for the poorest among us not because my economic theory says so but because I believe it to be the right and decent thing to do. We need to pay for these things by taxing the wealthy because the wealthy are benefiting from a healthy educated workforce and therefore pay for these things. That's not economics for me, it's (again) what's right and decent.

Therein lies the problem. It's impossible to separate economic theory from moral judgement, and it makes it hard to argue with those who you think are just out and out wrong."

When I talked about "what's best for the economy," I meant for PEOPLE -- not for corporations, except in the sense that people get their paychecks from corporations.

Presumably, we all agree that if the economy is in good shape, there are fewer poor people. But we differ over what we need to do to keep the economy in good shape.

Sure, there are asshole Republicans who don't care about poor people. But there are others who genuinely believe that Conservative economic policy helps the poor better than Liberal policy does. They may be wrong. I am neutral about that, because, frankly, I think anyone who is has a strong opinion about ANY economic policy is nuts. Macroeconomics is voodoo.

One of the caricatures of Liberals is that the bleeding-heart type. He will be told that if he invests some money that he has, the dividends will help 1000 poor people next year. But there are ten poor people in front of him right now, so instead of investing, he gives all the money to the ten. So only ten poor people benefited when 1000 could have. (I don't think that's a very good caricature, and I'm not promoting it. I'm just saying that "helping the poor" can take many different forms, depending on one's beliefs.)

My point is that at least some Republicans agree with you -- that you can't separate economics from morality. And they'd say -- and believe -- that their version of economics is the morally right one, the one that is most likely to help the disadvantaged.

Also, it's possibly a mistake to lump Fred, the Republican next door with "those people in Congress." Wendy talked about how horrible it is that Republicans side with those rape-redefiners in Washington. Well, one thing worth remembering is that many Americans, on both sides of the Red/Blue divide mistrust politicians and don't think of them as "their peeps."

I'm that way. I would call myself a Liberal -- at least when it comes to social issues. I'm pro gay rights, pro choice, blah blah blah. But those Democrats in Washington are NOT my folks. You may feel they are your folks, and, of course, there are plenty of Republicans who feel at one with Republican politicians -- but there are also plenty who don't.

I can't remember a president in my lifetime that I've liked. I'm a Liberal, but I'm not big Obama fan. I wasn't a fan of Clinton or Carter, either. So it's worth remembering that just because Fred's a Republican, that doesn't mean he likes the Republicans in power or agrees with everything they say.

You can bet if Obama does something horrible -- something you disagree with -- people on the other side will point at you and say, "See what YOU PEOPLE do?" That would be massively unfair, unless you happen to blindly support "your team."

"I get that some conservatives might think that their policies will help the working class, the poor, and the general population. But the facts aren't always on their side because America has proven recently that economic growth hasn't trickled down all that much.

Moreover, many of the people they choose to stand in for them use language that suggest that their notion of 'help' includes a form of condemnation. Reagan said that the unemployed were 'unemployed by choice' and held up one (as of yet never been located) 'welfare queen" as proof that welfare was not helpful but enabled people to cheat and have babies just to collect checks. The Tea Party and Conservative darlings of today say that unemployment 'spoils' people (Sharron Angle) and that unemployment insure 'rewards people who don't look for work' (a sentiment uttered in one form or another by about two dozen members of the Senate within the last year, all of whom were Republican).

So if Conservatism (economically) is aimed at helping the poor or the working class, it might need better spokespeople."

No argument here re bad spokespeople. Again, though, as a Liberal, I can relate to this. I rarely hear a Liberal politician speak and think, "Yes! He's a good spokesperson for me." It sucks that Conservatives hear these clowns talking and think that just because I'm they're liberal and I'm liberal, they speak for me. They don't.

As I said, there are plenty of Liberals and Conservatives who DO feel like their politicians speak for them. But this isn't the case for all Liberals and Conservatives.

This is the sort of thing that bothers me, and it's the sort of thing said by both sides: "America has proven recently that economic growth hasn't trickled down all that much."

Being very specific, what has been proven is that economic plan A did not work in county B at date C. That same plan might (or might not) work in a different country at a different time. The problem is that different countries -- or even the same country at different times -- are massively different from each other.

Saying that the the trickle-down effect works (or doesn't work) is like saying "you should always wear three layers of clothing." That's not true, because weather systems fluctuate. It's a bad idea to wear three layers in the Summer.

But the weather is far-less chaotic (in terms of what you should wear) than the economy. You CAN reliably say that it's a good idea to wear a coat in the winter, because one winter is more-or-less like every other winter: cold. But no economic place or time is like any other.

The variables for Summer/Winter are basically temperature and wind. The variables for the economy are stock-market fluctuations, interest rates, levels-of-inflation, job market statistics, consumer confidence, deficit, etc., etc., etc.

To say that predict that an economic policy is likely to work, you need to have seen it work or not-work before in with all the variables the same. If ONE variable between last time and this time is different, your prediction is worthless.

This is why no one has been able to predict most of the major economic crisis of the past, even though tons of highly-educated, brilliant people try and try and try. We will always be blindsided. Nassim Taleb has a great book about this called "The Black Swan." Its thesis is basically that no matter how many times history proves that when it comes to economics, it's impossible to know the answers, people keep insisting that they DO know.

This drives me batshit insane when it comes to politics. And whats funny is that both parties pull EXACTLY the same shit. If the economy goes South when a Democrat is on the throne, the Republicans jump up and down and point fingers: "See! Liberal economics don't work!" WRONG! Liberal economics doesn't work in this specific time and place, which will never come again. And, of course, Democrats do the same thing when Republican policies fail.

It's like everyone is picking random lottery numbers, and then blaming each other when those numbers fail to win the lottery. It's madness.

When the job market or the economy improve during a presidency, people are SURE they know why it happened. If the market improves tomorrow, half the country will INSIST this is because Obama did it. The other half will insist it was due to an effect that started before Obama came into office. Neither side knows the truth. Neither side CAN know the truth. So it all boils down to "rah rah my team!" Few people have the ability to say, "I really don't know why the economy improved, so I'm going to shut up."

I do agree that when you've heard the 200th Republican say something crappy about the poor or gays or whatever, it's human nature to feel that all Republicans suck. Natural as this is, I think we have to fight it like hell. This is ALWAYS a harmful thought.

If someone gets robbed by ten black people in a row, it's natural for him to think that black people are thieves. If he said this, we'd chastise him for being a racist, but he'd just be doing natural, human, inevitable pattern-matching. It's impossible to not do this. At the same time, it's VITAL that we continually urge people to overcome it. As we know, with race-based remarks, that sort of thinking, natural though it may be, leads to all sorts of horrible problems.

Whenever we hear "black people are...", "Christians are...", "Republicans are..." comments, we should be scared. We should, over and over, as tedious as it is, remind ourselves that not ALL black people or Christians or Republicans are... We need to be firm about this, because though it's true, it's not a natural way of thinking. We are always going to backslide into prejudices. And those prejudices are deadly.

LIBERALS should speak out when they hear someone lump all Republicans together. Christians should speak out when they hear someone lump all Atheists together. Men should speak out when they hear someone lump all women together. Poor people should speak out when they hear someone lump all women together. This is very, very hard to do. We tend to let groups stand up for themselves. (If woman want to be treated as individuals, let THEM work towards that goal. Why should men bother with it?) That's natural but deadly. We need to take a stand, in principle, against all forms of prejudice.

There's nothing wrong with saying, "Anti-gay legislation is evil." But once we slide over into saying ALL Republicans are evil, we're lost. And we're playing with fire.

We're in a terrible state right now, because both Liberals and Conservatives are FURIOUS and FRIGHTENED. And people in those states need to vent. Wendy needed to vent, and I understand that. I often do to. And here I come saying, "Not ALL Republicans are like that." That screws up her venting.

Whenever I hear Liberals making all-encompassing-remarks about Conservatives or Conservatives doing making them about Liberals, I speak up. It doesn't make me many friends. One thing both camps seem to agree upon is that I'm irritating. This is because both camps WANT to caricature the other.

I think many people feel -- and I understand this, because I often feel it too -- that though it's true that not all Republicans are this way or that way, it's okay to vent as if they are when you're around friends.

And sometimes it is. The problem is that right now it's not. Right now the country is crashing and burning. We're edging closer and closer to something that, at its worst, could turn into civil war. My greatest fear is that this train has reached a point where it's unstoppable.

Just prior to WWI, people used to chant "We want war! We want war!" I'm scared that we've reached (or almost reached) a point where this is the case in America. I think there are many people (I admit I'm one of them at times) who are sick of the fighting and would be thrilled to see Liberals and Democrats duke it out in one, final, apocalyptic battle.

What's tragic to me is that most Conservatives think that the biggest problem we have right now is Liberals. And most Liberals think the biggest problem we have right now is Conservatives. Being a Liberal, I DO think Conservatives are a big problem. But there's a bigger problem right now -- and it's the fact that America is almost at a boiling point. Tempers are so high, many people are beyond being rational. They are out for blood. They want their team to win at any cost. They want the other team crushed. Everyone needs a timer out!

No matter how right you are, it's always important to think carefully about whether your rightness is worth going to war over. I'm not saying it's never is. Sometimes it definitely is. It's just worth considering, and very few Americans are considering it.

I suspect this is because they don't think internal war is really a possibility. The assume we'll either just go on being angry at each other forever or that one side will win. Both of these (especially the first) are possible. But war is possible too, and it happened in America a very, very short time ago. Just 150 years ago!

I think we actually learned some lessons from WWI, WWII and The Cold War. Not enough, but some. But, strangely, in American, it's as if the Civil War never happened. Collectively, we learned nothing from it at all.

We need to make a choice. We need to go ahead and get Civil War II over with. Or we need to start working -- NOW -- to bridge the Red/Blue gap. That will be hard as hell, if not impossible. But if we don't make the choice, fate will make it for us. And it probably won't be pretty.

No comments: